An emergency care order was granted in a provincial town in respect of four children following serious concerns about the condition of the house and the welfare of the children. The children had previously been the subject of a supervision order and a guardian ad litem (GAL) had been appointed. The emergency care order was followed by a series of interim care orders where the three youngest children were placed together, but the eldest, a young teenager, was placed in a hotel looked after by care workers.
The children had come into care when the Gardaí invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act, 1991 following concerns of the condition of the home and welfare of the children. The mother was deceased and the father was consenting to the application but was not accepting all of the evidence.
The social worker told the court he had carried out a home visit the day before the hearing and had requested the attendance of the Gardaí. At the home, the social worker was met by the father and the four children. The house was extremely dirty and the social worker’s shoes stuck to the floor. There was a bottle of milk in the fridge in the kitchen, the freezer was empty, there were black bags of rubbish and a lack of fire safety. At the back of the house, there were two old parked vehicles filled with rubbish.
The bedroom downstairs was described as shocking. There were no bed sheets on the bed and the mattress was stained with faeces. There was neither a toilet seat nor toilet roll in the bathroom and there was a smell of urine. There were no facilities to wash and no plug to hold water in the bath. There were stained bedsheets and soiled underwear in the bedroom of the two younger children.
The social worker asked the father where the children could get fresh underwear and the father pointed to a drawer in the room that was empty. The bed was wet in the room of the youngest child. The front windows were broken and the house was in bad condition and unsuitable to live in.
The father had been aggressive with the social worker. The social worker alleged the father had attempted to push him out of the house. The children had become heightened to a level that was unhelpful. One child had left the house and run through the estate. The social worker had asked the father to keep the children safe but he refused.
Once the section 12 was invoked the social worker asked the father to support him to get help for the children but he did not and the children left the home in a traumatic way. The children were taken to the social work office and were described as being scruffy and having an odour. They were provided with food. The social workers explained to the children that they would be going to another home and the children were happy that they would have food and a shower.
The judge asked: “How did things get so bad with a supervision order?”
The previous social worker said that since the supervision order there had been an improvement in engagement with the family. The social workers were able to conduct weekly visits and things had been getting better. The father bought bedding and food. He engaged with the social workers and school attendance had improved.
The family then contracted COVID and the social workers could not enter the home. The social workers saw a level of disengagement and lack of improvement. The social workers had received three anonymous referrals in the previous two to three weeks concerning the welfare of the children. During the week the social worker conducted a home visit with the social care worker and she was contacted by a neighbour with concerns about the children.
The judge said: “The situation did not happen overnight and happened over a period of time. The supervision order was to supervise and I am at loss to see what happened in that period of time. Is that sufficient, to see the children end up the way they did when a supervision order [was] in place. There are numerous issues even with school attendance. Why was the school not contacted with half of the attendance missed?”
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said the supports were in place with the children and things were improving following the supervision order but the situation declined again.
The solicitor for the father said the father was asking for access. He lost his wife in the recent past and loved his children dearly. He wanted to maintain a relationship with the children.
The judge granted the emergency care order for a period of eight days.
When the case came back to court an interim care order was granted, which was later extended.
The court heard the eldest child had no stable placement and was staying in out of hours accommodation while the three younger children were placed together. They had a series of medical problems and did not receive the medical attention they needed. Referrals had been made to a psychologist in relation to the three younger children and one child had made a number of disclosures.
When the children had come into care the social workers had not been able to source a placement for the eldest child and the children’s aunt took him for a short period. The social workers had exhausted all of their resources to secure a placement for him. The social worker had written to the area manager.
The GAL said the issues with the eldest child’s placement were not the fault of the social worker and team leader. The case was on the local panel and that local panel controlled two homeless hostels. Those hostels were short term homeless accommodation. The eldest child was staying in a hotel room looked after by two health care assistants. The GAL said: “He is not a difficult boy and the resources are not there and I’m at loss to see how a 14-year-old boy can be without a placement.”
The interim care order was extended for a period of 28 days.